PLAY HARD: Team Player hits Palate stage on Sunday with latest rockin’ riffs and rhythms

A couple of weeks ago, Modern Legend owner Catherine Hawksworth gave encore the lowdown on rockin’ music she’s booking across ILM. Among bands in town “checking off all of the boxes” with catchy hooks and toe-tapping melodies is the relatively new Team Player. The trio is made up of 20-somethings Marty Cunningham (vocals, guitar), Chandler Hicks (bass) and Chris Warren (drummer).

The trio of Team Player is among several bands making their mark on Wilmington’s thriving music scene. They will play off their latest EP this Sunday at Palate and start preparing to open for The Love Language anniversary tour.  Courtesy photo.
The trio of Team Player is among several bands making their mark on Wilmington’s thriving music scene. They will play off their latest EP this Sunday at Palate and start preparing to open for The Love Language anniversary tour. Courtesy photo.

“I’m a sucker for catchy choruses—who isn’t?” Cunningham asks. “So I always try to find that first and build around it. Everything else is just what happens when the three of us put it all together.”

Cunningham and Warren have known each other since middle school, often playing captive audiences at each other’s houses or backyards for friends and family. Their formative years were filled with the likes of The Beatles, Courtney Barnett, Daddy Issues, Tacocat, Car Seat Headrest, Rilo Kiley, Nirvana, and Chastity Belt—and it shows in their latest release. “EP 2” (February 2019) consists of four songs, including “Something Wild,” which at the onset cuts straight to rock-n-roll riffs and rhythms.

“‘Something Wild’ was originally a little Southern-rock/swamp-rock kind of riff I’d play for fun that eventually transformed in practice into the fast-paced tune it is now,” Cunningham explains. “Lyrically, it’s all about uncertainty: where I am, where I’m headed, and just imagining the endless places I could go and directions life might take. And how overwhelming that can all be to think about!”

“A lot of our songs either make you wanna dance and jump around with your friends or bang your head,” Hicks adds, “which I feel perfectly reflects my musical interests as a whole.”

Whether it’s Slayer or Stevie Wonder, Hicks says he digs anything with a groove to it. More so he finds it imperative to his craft and listens to an array of musicians, like Geddy Lee, Mike Watt, Jaco Pastorious and Thundercat.

“As a bassist it’s important to have that sense of rhythm and feeling with the music,” he tells. “Some of my favorite bass players all have physical connection with their instruments and the music they make. I try to bring that same sense of groove and movement to Team Player, especially when playing live.”

As they prepare to open for The Love Language’s 10th anniversary tour this year, Team Player will take to the Palate stage on Sunday with Billy Heathen. It will be the last show with all three together until August. Cunningham and Hicks were kind enough to share more about their collective musical interests and latest songs.

encore (e): What’s your perspective of Wilmington’s music scene?

Chandler Hicks (CH): I’ve only really been a part of the scene in Wilmington for a little under two years, but I think there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on. The diversity of it is really what gets me. You’ve got a lot of really great solo acts, like Kevin Earl and Pinky Verde, that help provide an indie singer-songwriter feel, and then you’ve got bands like Wax Imperials and Billy Heathen that just have a raw heavy energy that is so addicting to get into. It’s like a little bit of everything—and it’s only just getting started.

Marty Cunningham (MC): I’m new to this whole scene, but it’s been awesome so far. Seeing so many acts coming up with us with so much talent, and so much to say (Pinky Verde, Rosemary, Billy Heathen, the list goes on and on), it’s inspiring. And to see how many people come out to shows and continue to support the scene is great! Catherine [Hawksworth] deserves a lot of credit for that; she and the Modern Legend crew do an incredible job of putting together great bills and promoting local artists they believe in.

e: Tell us more about “EP 2.”

MC: “Washed Out” is one of my favorite guitar bits I’ve come up with, and I always like playing it live. Lyrically the song was written with a conscious effort to write something a little more accusatory, something with a little aggression to it to match the pulse of the riff. I have a lot of sad lyrics (whoops!), so I’m glad “Washed Out” has a little anger behind it for a change.

“How We Talk” is about the fallout after a relationship or with someone you’d been close to—just that terrible feeling in your gut when you run into each other and realize everything is weird and different. Strangely, it’s one of our most upbeat tracks.

“Feel Light” is about failing to be the person you’ve wanted to be. It was written on a particular day where I failed to even leave my house—I don’t think I even left my bed. So “Feel Light” is both the feeling of wanting to live more positively and finally doing things you said you would, and also a little bit of just wanting to literally feel sunlight.

e: Who writes the lyrics? Does everyone come to the table with music?

MC: So far I’ve been coming up with lyrics, guitar, melody and general structure, then we all play around in practice and find what works. I think we’re definitely prepared to bring forward new ideas when we have them. I’m excited to see where that takes our sound going forward. Also, Chandler is probably a better guitarist than me, so hopefully whatever he writes is something I can play.

e: What are the most significant differences between Team Player’s first EP from 2018 to now? In what ways have you evolved or changed?

MC: Our first EP was made up of songs written before Team Player ever formed—songs I’d just been working on months prior. So once Chandler came aboard, we went straight into recording demos at home, long before we’d even booked our first show. It wasn’t until “EP2” we had a real idea of who we were and what we sounded like together.

Now, I feel like we’re quickly having to learn how the whole business side of music works. We’re really just throwing ourselves in there and asking smarter people when we have no clue what we’re doing. It’s actually been fun.

e: What is one quirk each of you has in practice, at a show or in the studio?

CH: I think as a whole, we all have a very similar sense of humor. We’re always trying to make each other laugh during practice with some joke or story. I feel  Marty’s always making some silly noises during rehearsal. Chris won’t say much, but when he does it’s always hilarious; it makes for a really fun environment.

MC: Chris loves to sit silently, he’s great at it. But he’s also one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet; I swear we need to mic him up just so he can talk to the crowd between songs instead of me. Also, you won’t find a drummer who hits harder or breaks more sticks than Chris Warren.

Chandler likes to move. I don’t know how he keeps it up. I’m spending half of my energy just trying to not forget my own lyrics, but I can count on Chandler to be next to me, out-dancing and out-singing anyone around.

I’m not sure what my quirks are. Sweating? Really, I do have a habit at practice of making all kinds of sounds into the mic just for my own amusement and my bandmates’ displeasure. Meaningless phrases, lip-smacks, yells, etc. I’m not to be trusted with a microphone.

e: What will we hear at Palate?

MC: We haven’t yet laid out the setlist, but you can expect a good mix of things, from both EPs to newer, unrecorded things we’ve been playing the last couple of shows. I’ve always got an idea or two I’m kicking around—I’d like to have another new one ready by then. Hey, maybe we’ll just play everything!

Team Player with Billy Heathen
Sunday, June 23, 6p.m. – 8 p.m.
Palate, 1007 N. 4th St. • Free

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